Excerpt: All Down The Line

In advance of the publication of All Down The Line on March 23, here is a short excerpt:

The first car, a blue Corsica with peeling paint that was gradually turning it silver, came from the west on Highway Nine. When he reached the turnoff for Hubbard, the driver pulled off the highway and rolled slowly past the ruins of an old gas station and down the main street, such as it was, to the far end of town where a hotel stood at the corner illuminated by one of the hamlet’s two streetlights. The other they had just driven past, stationed by the Community Hall, a stolid and square white building behind which sat the town’s ball diamonds. There were only a handful other buildings to speak of in the place—even the elevators had been torn down years ago—and only a few of those appeared to be inhabited.

There were no lights on in any of the windows they drove by—hardly surprising, given the hour. Even the hotel was dark, with no vehicles parked in front of it. That too was unremarkable, for it had been years since a room had been rented. Even the strippers passing through to perform made the drive to Loverna for better accommodation. The bar still did a regular business, somehow, mostly the local drunks who couldn’t be bothered with an extra half hour of driving to find more pleasant climes.

The Corsica pulled up in front of the hotel, under the streetlight and the driver turned the engine off and the lights as well. Nobody emerged from the car, though there were two people with the driver. They all sat in silence, waiting, looking at the broken and stained stucco that covered the hotel. The driver rolled down his window to let in the cool night air and they listened to the hissing and whirring of various insects.

They didn’t have long to wait. The second car arrived five minutes later, coming from the east on one of the gravel roads south of town. The three men in the Corsica could hear its approach, the distinctive grind of car wheels on gravel, long before it arrived and each of them began to shift in their seats in anticipation. The approaching vehicle, a Dodge half-ton, crossed the railroad track and turned onto a road running parallel to it that intersected with main street and the hotel.

The truck engine pulled up alongside the Corsica and cut its engine. Everyone emerged from their vehicles to gather at the steps of the hotel and shake hands.

Ed. Misty,” the Corsica driver said, nodding at both of them. “You know Shane and Burscht.”

Of course,” Ed said. “Good to see you Randall. You haven’t tried to wake Eduardo up?”

Randall shook his head. “We just got here.”

I’ll see if I can get him up,” Misty said. He had earned the name when a stripper, of that nom de plum, had managed to take all his casino winnings one drunken evening, along with his clothes, boots and hat.

He strode up the steps to the door and hammered his fist against its heavy steel. When there was no response he repeated the tactic, cocking his head against the door to listen for any sound within. He turned to the others and shook his head.

For fuck sakes,” Randall said, going halfway up the steps and craning his neck above to where a window on the second floor overlooked them. “Wake the fuck up, you lazy fucking half-breed Chinese.”

You trying to rouse the village?” Ed said, something like a grin on his face.

This fucking guy,” Randall said, shaking his head. “Every fucking time. He knows we’re coming. He can’t stay up or set a goddamn alarm?”

It is aggravating,” Misty said.

You get that from the dictionary?” Burscht said, bouncing back and forth on his heels.

Misty clenched his fists and came down the steps to where Burscht and Shane stood.

Hey, hey,” Randall said, holding out a hand to forestall him. “None of that now. We’re all friends here.”

Misty turned to Ed who nodded curtly, but his eyes were leveled at Burscht and they were cold.

Randall turned to Burscht. “Hey, I’m already dealing with one dummy,” he said, gesturing up to where Eduardo remained asleep. “Now I gotta worry about you running your mouth? We’re trying to conduct a simple business transaction here. Let’s not make this more complicated than it fucking is. Alright?”

He looked from face to face and everyone slowly nodded. “Okay then. How do we get this useless fucker up?”

Maybe try the door first,” Shane said, with a shrug.

Everyone watched as Misty clicked down the handle and pulled. The door swung open and they all walked in.

We could walk away with the whole inventory and he’d never wake up,” Ed said, shaking his head in amazement.

I wish I could say I’m surprised,” Randall said. “Go roust the pigfucker and don’t be gentle about it.”

Burscht went upstairs, while Shane ducked behind the bar to grab them all beers. The rest sat down at the largest table, looking around the room. It was a sight to behold, cluttered with tables and mismatched chairs in various states of disrepair, all thirty years old at least. Off beside the bar, Eduardo had set up a little kitchen on one table, with a hot plate and microwave. Surrounding them on the table were scattered plates and bowls, well-encrusted with food.

This place smells worse every time I come here,” Ed said, lifting his head to scent the air, which was redolent with mildew and ancient carpet, cigarette smoke and urine.

We’re just damn lucky no inspector gives a shit. They’d condemn this place straight out,” Shane said, bringing the beers over for everyone.

From above they heard a cry of pain that was quickly silenced, followed by Burscht’s angry voice. A few moments later Eduardo emerged, stumbling down the stairs bleary eyed and clutching his nose which was bleeding. Burscht came behind him, a laconic grin on his face, the look of a child who knows he has pleased his father. He led Eduardo to the chair, which Shane pushed out for him, and shoved him down to sit between the two opposing sides, before going to lean against the bar.

Don’t tell me you forgot we were coming again?” Randall said. “Or did your alarm not go off this time?”

That guy broke my nose,” Eduardo said, his voice muffled by his hands.

Be glad that’s the only thing he broke,” Randall said, but he gestured to Burscht, who brought a damp cloth over from the bar. Eduardo pressed it to his face to staunch the flow of blood and put his head back so his nose was elevated.

Now, maybe this is too goddamn complex for your Chinese brain—”

I’m Filipino, man.”

“—but you have one fucking job in this whole enterprise. And that is to be awake when the fucking delivery comes. When you’re not, when we have to wake the whole fucking town up just to get a sit down with you, it jeopardizes the whole operation. Not to mention, it makes me look like a shitheel to our friends here.”

Randall gestured to Ed and Misty, who sat, staring stonefaced at Eduardo.

Man, I been asleep like twice when you guys come.”

You’ve been asleep every time Misty’s come by,” Ed said. “Don’t fucking lie.”

Eduardo gave a half shrug of his shoulders and fell silent.

Randall looked at Ed and shook his head apologetically. “Look, Eduardo, like I said, you got one fucking job here. And it’s not to keep this bar running. It’s to be awake when Misty comes in with the product. Or when we come in with the money. Or when, like tonight, we need to have a meeting to discuss your fucking incompetence.”

Maybe we need to find someone else to take over the bar?” Shane ventured, trying to put something like a threat in his voice.

Who the fuck else would choose to live here?” Misty said, looking around.

That is a valid question,” Randall said. “But not relevant at the moment.”

I don’t know, that picture really brings the place together,” Shane said, nodding toward the mural that covered one wall of the bar. It depicted an idyllic scene of a prairie lake of people swimming and picnicking along the shoreline. In front of the mural, which looked as faded as everything else in the place, a stage had been built with a stripper pole at its center.

You don’t have any girls for us either,” Burscht said from the bar, drawing a glare from Randall, which froze his smile.

Girls don’t come out anymore. Nobody comes anymore,” Eduardo said. “People are wondering why I’m even open.”

Randall and Ed looked at each other. “Are people asking you that?” Ed said, an edge to his voice.

Sure. Guys at the mailboxes joke about it. Even the assholes that come in here everyday wonder about it.”

Now see,” Randall said, leaning forward and grabbing Eduardo’s shoulder to pull him close. “This is why we need you awake when we come. Because if people start asking those questions and then they see us showing up at one in the morning, they’re going to start thinking we’re the answer.”

Right. Sure.”

Randall was about to say something more, but he thought better of it and Ed spoke instead, addressing his counterpart. “This is what I am talking about. We’ve attracted too much attention here, and it’s going to bite us in the ass at some point.”

I don’t think so,” Shane said. “This place has been open for years with nobody coming. Eduardo’s not the first moron these people have seen coming in and trying to start something here. They won’t be surprised he’s here. And they won’t be surprised if he decides to go.”

You sure about that,” Ed said, and Shane nodded. “Alright, I guess we can live with this arrangement for now. Provided he’s awake when fucking deliveries happen.”

Leave that to me,” Randall said and turned to Eduardo. “Get the fuck out of here.”

Eduardo stumbled from his chair and went back upstairs, still clutching his nose with the cloth. The others watched him go and then listened as the stairs creaked and the floor above them groaned with his weight.

When it was quiet above, Ed leaned across the table. “Now, let’s discuss our other problem.”

All Down The Line is available for preorder:
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Now Available: Stand By Your Man

STAND BY YOUR MAN

A THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Tammy Fairchild left Loverna to escape her reputation and make a new life in a new town. But problems seem to follow her wherever she goes.

Starting over, she finds herself a new job and a new man, someone she can trust. For Kevin Burscht is not like the other men she’s known. He is caring and considerate.

But not everything is as it seems with Kevin. He has a mysterious past filled with dark secrets. And Tammy finds that she is the one who will pay the price for his wrongs…

Buy the ebook

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Excerpt: Stand By Your Man

In advance of the publication of Stand By Your Man on February 24, here is a short excerpt:

HER PARENTS NAMED her Tammy after the singer of Stand By Your Man, a song which she never had much taste for. Country had never been her thing. In high school she acquired another nickname, “trucker fucker”, after a rumor started that she waited outside the hotel bar in Loverna for the truckers to come out so she could give them blowjobs. That was not true, or at least not entirely. There had been one guy she gave head to, but she was fairly certain he worked on a seismic rig.

It hadn’t mattered though, the name and the story that went with it had stuck and for the rest of high school she was one of those girls. The girl that every guy thought he should try his luck with at a party, whether or not he had a girlfriend. She played the part a few times, mostly out of spite with the boyfriends of girls who taunted her for her sluttiness. It all backfired predictably, with the blame all coming her way.

After high school, lacking the grades and the money to go off to college, she moved into town off her father’s farm and took a job at the UFA gas station out on Highway 41. She decided she was done with school and boys and all the drama and nonsense that went with. Now that she was out of school, not interacting with the same one hundred or so horny, judgmental idiots, the nickname and her tawdry reputation began to seem things of the past. She was treated as an adult, accorded that respect, and she began to get it into her head that she deserved a man not a boy, though she did not quite know what that meant. Continue reading

In A Flash: Mail Order

Daniel threw the mail on table by the door as he came in. “I’m home babe,” he called out as he took off his shoes.

“Hey good looking,” Alice said, coming over to kiss him. She picked up the mail. “Anything good?”

“Junk. How was your day?”

Alice did not answer. She was engrossed in a postcard-size, glossy mailout advertising a beauty seminar. Daniel had glanced at it while rifling through the mail downstairs, but hadn’t noticed anything that would warrant that kind of scrutiny. He went to the kitchen and got a beer from the fridge, cracking it open.

“So how was it babe?” he said, taking a long pull.

“How was what?” Alice said, in a distracted voice, still reading over the mailout.

“Your day.”

“Oh, it was fine,” Alice said, setting down the mail and looking up at him to smile. “How was yours?”

Daniel shrugged and took another drink of beer. “Same old. What are you thinking for supper?”

After dinner, when Daniel went to put the mail in the recycling, he noticed the mailout was missing.

“You thinking of attending that seminar?” he said, when he came back into the apartment.

“What seminar?”

“The one from the mail. The one you were looking at.”

“Oh no,” Alice said, laughing. “I thought I recognized the name of the company. I think maybe a friend of mine works there. I was going to look it up.”

Daniel grunted in response and went to turn on the television. Alice watched him for a moment, biting her lip. When Daniel glanced up from the television she smiled and he smiled in turn.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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In A Flash: D.B.

D.B. stepped up to the bar. “Bourbon and water,” he said, with a nod to the bartender.

“Sure. Got a particular flavor?” the bartender said.

D.B. shook his head and the bartender busied himself with a bottle of his cheapest. His sleeves were rolled up to this elbow and his arms were lined with tattoos. D.B. found himself staring at them.

“You like the ink?” the bartender asked as he passed the bourbon over.

D.B. shook his head. “Never much cared for it.”

“No?” the bartender said with a smile. “Guess not many folks your age have them.”

“You’d be surprised. I was in the navy. Lot of the boys had them then. I never did. And it was a good thing. Easy way for people to remember you.”

“Some of us want to be remembered,” the bartender said.

“Sure,” D.B. said. “Some do. Some don’t.”

By his tone he made it plain which he preferred. The bartender looked as though he were about to reply but another customer, a young woman with large glasses, entered and he went to her. D.B. took a sip of his bourbon and cast about the room with a studied eye, noting the exits and the few people present. An old habit, one he did not intend to lose.

There were no more than a half dozen people in the place at this hour—a grubby little bar with pretensions to being hip, that didn’t quite manage it. Most of them were young—D.B. had a half-century on all of them, he would guess—and absorbed in the heat of their lives. Only the bartender paid him any mind, with, what seemed to D.B., a genuine curiosity as to why an old man was having a bourbon in his establishment at two in the afternoon.

When D.B. was finished his first bourbon the bartender made his way over. “Care for another?”

“Sure. I got the time.” He could feel a twinge of his old accent coming back into his voice as he spoke. It was always there, hidden, but visible. Something he had to watch for.

“Great. Big plans for the rest of the day?”

“Can’t say as I do. I’m done with big plans.”

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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In A Flash: Menthols and Pisco Sours

She tasted of menthols and pisco sours. Jaime ran his tongue along her lips, savoring the flavor, before biting at her lip. He could feel her freeze a little at the sharpness of the pain, wondering if he was going to go further, and had to resist a smile. She was staring at him, looking up from the circle of his arms, where he pressed her in close.

Looking down at her and meeting her gaze, Jaime was unable to tell what exactly she was thinking. She was not lost in passion, not eager to see that he was either. No, she was watching him, a part of her reserved and standing off, to observe this. What for, he wondered, slightly unsettled. To cover his unease, he bit down on her lip again, harder this time, and was satisfied to see her wince and frown.

She had told him her name, but he did not remember it. They had met in some dive bar near Plaza San Martín in Lima, a dark and grubby place he sometimes went to when he wanted to be with the people, so to speak. It was across the street from a tourist hotel and sometimes he would meet American girls there, who were also deigning to visit the place, looking for a little danger. If only they knew, he thought.

This girl though, he had thought she was a prostitute, off the clock for the night. Or maybe not, maybe the bill would come due in an hour or two. She was light skinned, with mestizo features, and quite beautiful with long black hair, wide eyes and incredible tits. They were what had drawn his attention first. Her teeth were a little crooked and her clothes a little too tight and little too garish. Otherwise he would have expected to find her in one of the Miraflores clubs. Maybe, in a couple of years, if fate shone upon her, he would.

Tired of kissing, Jaime moved to pull down the shoulders of her dress and reveal what he was here for, but she pulled away from him. “I just need to go to the bathroom babe,” she said, patting his cock through his jeans. “Don’t unload this while I’m gone.”

He smiled and released her, or rather, she wiggled from his grasp. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, contemplating taking his clothes off, but decided not to. Let her take them off, that would be more fun. Absentmindedly, he flipped on the television, searching for a sports station while he waited.

They were in a hourly hotel, called El Encuentro, the sort of place where everyone ended up at some point or another. Boyfriends and girlfriends stealing away for that first time. Husband and wives who just wanted some peace from her parents and his children from the first marriage. Affairs, of course, and people like him. Impromptu customers.

As a result, the furnishings were very minimal. There was only a mattress and a sheet and two very flat looking pillows. Beside the bed there was a small table with a phone, and on the other side there was a large tub with jets. The place was immaculately clean. That was why he came here. It was something he looked for.

He flipped through the channels for a second time, unable to find anything to capture his interest. Even the porn channels weren’t exciting him. Where the hell was this girl?

As he looked up, determined to go to the bathroom and see for himself what as going on—maybe she was getting high; he didn’t like that, not around him—the bathroom door opened and she stepped out. The first thing Jaime noticed was that she had not taken off her dress to reveal those remarkable tits, which irritated him. The second thing was that she had a gun in her hand, which annoyed him even more.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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In A Flash: Menu Del Día

Gerald grimaced against the glare of the sun as he stared down the teeming street. The faces shifted rapidly across his frame of vision, the calls of the hawkers drowning out any chatter on the street that the clatter of the vehicles trundling by did not. He bit his lip as his stomach was lanced by a sharp pain that shuddered down his bowels and threatened to spill out at his feet.

“Everything okay?” Ariel said.

“Yeah,” he said, exhaling slowly and relaxing his tense muscles, hoping nothing dislodged itself in the process.

She laughed. “That bad, huh?”

“Fucking menu del día. Never should’ve eaten that.”

“I warned you,” Ariel said.

“Oh god,” Gerald said, clutching at his stomach. “Now is definitely not the time.”

“You still up for the museum?”

“Not like we’ve got another day. Bound to be a bathroom in there anyway.”

Ariel led the way along the uneven cobblestone street, past the Incan wall with its massive many-sided stones, to what had once been the Archbishop’s palace. Now it was a museum filled with works of cusqueño art from the colonial period, though there were still Church offices on site. The archbishop continued to attend there on occasion. They had bought a ticket for the museum the day before at the cathedral on the main square and now they had the ticket punched and were offered an audio tour, which Ariel accepted, procuring headphones for both of them.

They went from room to room of the palace, which had been home to an Incan priest prior to the Church taking it over, following the conquest, listening to their audio guide drone on about the minutia of the art work on the walls. It all looked much the same to Gerald, paeans to God, Mary and Jesus, intended to educate those new to the faith by placing these foreign symbols in familiar contexts. Thus, there was a guinea pig, corn and potatoes being served with every image of the Last Supper. One example of this would have been enough to make the point, but the paintings seemed to proliferate throughout each room.

Gerald had to allow that the paintings were incredible, though he always found the baroque effects left him cold. He was especially unmoved on this day because of the rather tenuous state of his stomach. It was a matter of when, not if, he would need a bathroom, and he had yet to see a sign directing him to one.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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In A Flash: Felipe

Anna smiled as the security agent handed back her passport and moved forward to the conveyer belt. As she pulled out some trays from the stack and set her belongings in them, she glanced up and saw Felipe in the line across from her and frowned. They were racing each other, having chosen separate lines, and up until this point she had been ahead of him, her line moving at a steady pace.

She hurried with the trays, moving them onto the conveyer belt, and went to stand at the line in front of the x-ray machine.

“Shoes,” the bored woman standing on the other side of the machine said.

Muttering under her breath, Anna quickly slid off her shoes and jammed them into the tray alongside her purse and jacket. Felipe, she saw, was still removing his belt. She had time. Back at the line, the woman waved her through and Anna went, savoring her triumph. It was short-lived, for the alarm sounded.

“Check your pockets, ma’am,” the security guard said. “Keys. Cell phone. Jewelry.”

Anna frantically searched her person for the stray item, but was unable to locate anything. “I’m sorry,” she said. “There’s nothing in my pockets.”

“Come through again.”

Anna did, and this time no alarm sounded. Still the woman insisted on waving her squeaking wand around Anna’s body. Each change in pitch sounded ominous, but when she was done she waved Anna away. She went over to collect her things and met Felipe, who was watching her grinning, beyond the security checkpoint.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

If you like this story, or any of my others, please consider supporting me on Patreon

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In A Flash: Lost Coordinates

The first call came that afternoon as Mary finally settled down to get some work done on her computer.

“Give me my fucking phone back cunt,” the voice on other end of the call said. The man was more than angry, he sounded unhinged.

Mary was left disturbed and, after taking a moment to gather herself, she called the police. The officer listened sympathetically and took down a report, promising to follow up that week.

Not more than an hour later there was a knock at the door. When Mary got up from her computer she saw two police officers standing outside. That was quick, she thought, assuming they were following up on her earlier call.

“Ma’am, may we come in,” the first officer, an unsmiling woman said. “We have a report that there is stolen property located here and we’d like to look around.”

Mary blinked, a tiny ping of doubt echoing through her thoughts. “That’s crazy. Do you have warrant?”

“We were hoping you would cooperate with us,” the second officer said, offering a placating smile.

“I will. When you have a warrant. I can assure you, I haven’t stolen anything. You’re the second ones to accuse me of that today. The other one I had to report to the police.”

Both officers frowned and glanced at each other. “When did this happen?” the woman said.

“About an hour ago,” Mary said, and explained the phone call.

Neither officer had anything to say to her story. They thanked her for her time and retreated to their squad car, parked in front of the house. There they spent some time on the radio and their computers as Mary watched, glancing from time to time at the house. After half an hour they left and Mary finally allowed herself to relax, though she was still left unsettled. What was going on?

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

If you like this story, or any of my others, please consider supporting me on Patreon

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Fiction: The Bare Scent

Richard shot Matthews once, in the neck, and stood and watched as he crumpled to the floor, his breath coming in gurgles as the blood leaked out of him at a frightening pace. The sound of the shot had startled him. It had been both louder and quieter than he had expected. He stayed watching as Matthews bled out, his eyes blinking rapidly while he tried to speak, thinking only that he had been aiming for the head, not the neck.

Finally he remembered himself and, dropping the gun beside the dying man, he turned on his heels and walked out of the room, down the hallway, to the stairs. He moved at a steady pace, as though he had a purpose and was on his way somewhere, but he encountered no one. It was two flights to the main floor where he exited the stairwell into the hotel lobby and calmly walked out past the bellhops, desk attendants and guests, drawing not a single glance, through the revolving door and out into the glare of the sun.

There were two cabs parked out front and he got into the first one, giving the man an address—the first one that came into his head, a restaurant he had looked up the night before. The cab pulled out into the flow of traffic and Richard sucked in a deep breath, what felt like his first in a long while. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were shaking, and then realized that no, that was an illusion. It was his vision itself that was unsteady. The whole world was vibrating.

See the rest at Circumambient Scenery. A new story will be published there every Thursday.

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